Post Colonial Melancholia, 2005

The audible baying that some critics emit when encountering the concept of multiculturalism finds a key advisary in cultural historian Paul Gilroy’s Post Colonial Melancholia, a work that attempts to resurrect the idea of multiculturalism with a new perspective and context, “this book offers an unorthodox defense of this twentiech century utopia of tolerance, peace, and mutual regard. Toward that end, I argue that the political conflict which characterize multicultural societies can take on a very different aspect if they are understood to exist firmly in a context supplied by imperial and colonial history.” Like numerous others in recent works, Gilroy connects domestic conceptions of race, racism, immigrants, and national identity to its imperial reach, affecting both newcomer and native born alike. Additionally, Gilroy calls for attention to the 20th century “histories of sufferings” in order to “furnish the resources for the peaceful accommodation of otherness in relation to fundamental commonality.” Such attentions result in part from Gilroy’s concerns over the failure of Britain to highlight or even explain their post colonial conflicts. The near worship of WWII era Britain obscures these realities and fails to account for the changes that have developed within Britain socially and politically.
Gilroy utilizes a wide variety of philosophical, historical, and cultural authors/works ranging from Franz Fanon, W.E.B DuBois, George Orwell, and Hannah Arendt to Nick Hornsby, Ali G, and “The Office”. As with works by Derrida and Thomas Bender, Gilroy promotes the idea of cosmopolitanism as one way to envision to new conceptions of membership and identity. To a great extent. Postcolonial Melancholia explores the meanings and implications of this cosmopolitanism. For Gilroy culture has been deployed too often in an attempt to explain difference and division rather than unity or commonality. Writers such as Samuel Huntington and political figures such as Slobodan Milosevic and Osama Bin Laden among others harness this “absolute culture” such that it does not necessarily confine itself to racial parameters like white supremacy. With that said, these individual did invent this idea rather it emerged “in the bloody penumbra of the Third Reich, that innocent culture took over from raw natural hierarchy as the favored medium through which racial differences would become apparent as common sense.”
In terms of race, Gilroy undoubtedly believes in its continued existence but he encourages scholars to adjust their ideas of this force with the new realities of the day, “This … requires seeing “race” as moral as well as political and analyzing it as part of a cosmopolitan understanding of the damage that racisms are still doing to democracy.” Gilroy takes society to task for lacking the political imagination to escape a “defensive solidarity” when thinking about/discussing race as people to often focus on minor differences failing to “see beyond reified and alienated racial categories” with some individuals utilizing this as a badge of pride. Gilroy points to both the more obvious example of history creating this situation but also the historical antecedents that contributed to the growth of antiracism movements of Pan Africanism and beyond.
Gilroy spares little criticism of globalization and the “humanitarian” efforts of Britain’s government. Tropes about globalization focus too intently on economic development ignoring the violence that Gilroy believes accompanies it. Likewise Gilroy attacks the language of humanitarianism employed by Tony Blair and other Western powers as a refracted vision of previous imperial formulations. Though Gilroy embraces the idea of cosmopolitanism, he suggests “the meaning and ambition of the term “cosmopolitanism” has been hijacked and diminished by these changes … The discourse of human rights supplies the principal way in which this shared human nature can be made accessible to political debate and legal rationality. This is a rather ethnocentric outcome because the foundational investment that the west has made in the idea of rights is not itself a neutral or universal gesture. Most contemporary debates over human rights, globalization, and justice use “cosmopolitanism” to refer to the elaboration of a supranational system of regulation that opposes or contains the nation state from above … In the names of cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism, these particular moral sensibilities can promote and justify intervention in other people’s sovereign territory on the grounds that their ailing or incompetent nation state has failed to measure up to the levels of good practice that merit recognition as civilized.” In the imperial age, Britain used their own interventions as a marker of their own civilization especially in comparison with the imperial projects of their continental counterparts. Likewise, modern variants like “Blair’s moralism” accomplish a similar task.
The body of the immigrant serves as the new center of attention. The immigrant represents the reach of imperial Britain but also its failures. British society or at least segments of it, react hostility to such reminders, “its grudging recognition recognition provides a stimulus for forms of hostility rooted in the associated realization that today’s unwanted settlers carry all the ambivalence of empire with them. They project it into the unhappy consciousness of their fearful and anxious hosts and neighbors. Indeed, the incomers may be unwanted and feared … because they are the unwitting bearers of the imperial and colonial past.” (Note three pages later Gilroy pints out that negative responses to the Macpherson report “suggest melancholia’s signature combination of manic elation with misery, self-loathing, and ambivalence. Hostility to the proposition that racist violence and institutional indifference are normal and recurrent features of British social and political life gets intermingled with absolute and sincere surprise at the nastiness of racism and the extend of anger and resentment it can cause.”, 103. Therefore, his point as made elsewhere refers to the bizarre formulation where overtly racist violence/acts are discouraged but embedded structures of the same remain… ie.. he uses the fascination with skinheads which in turn pulls attention away from the more insidious threat the collared politician who masks his racism more benignly.) Even worse globalizations opponents have found utility in critiquing its foundations. What once may have seen racist or exclusionary now emerges as a heroic populist defense of “national culture.” [think Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanaan in the US … “Arranged reverently around national flagpoles, the mean spirited people who only a short time before sounded like unreconstructed nativist, racists, and ultranationalists, and neo-Fascists turn out instead to be postmodern patriots and anxious, pragmatic liberals eager to be insulated from the chill of globalization by the warm glow of cosmopolitan imperialism, bolstered by newly invented cultural homogeneity.”]
Gilroy does not wish to obscure the presence of any group rather “we need to be able to see how the presence of strangers, aliens, and blacks, and the distinctive dynamics of Europe’s imperial history have combined to shape its cultural and political habits and institutions. These historical processes have to be understood as internal to the operations of European political culture.” Scholars and others must avoid reifying race or ethnic identity while taking “the divisive, dehumanizing power of race thinking more seriously than in the past.” Race needs to be indentified as a “web of discourse.,” and understood in this context. Moreover, the “fascination with the figure of the migrant must be made part of Europe’s history rather than its contemporary geography.” For Gilroy, “modrn racism” must be a central consideration at the heart of today’s political, social, and economic landscape.

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